About Home Coffee Roasting
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A quick primer on fresh-roasted coffee: Most people are amazed to learn that once coffee beans have been roasted, they start to lose flavor, slowly at first, but significant loss happens in just three days, even if they have not been ground. The process is accelerated if the beans are ground. Over the next three weeks, even more flavor is lost. Most people don't often have a chance to taste the full flavor of coffee, unless they know a local coffee roaster. Until 60 years ago, coffee was sold freshly-roasted, delivered door-to-door, just like milk. Your local coffee roaster delivered freshly roasted beans to your home at regular intervals based on your family's consumption.
After WWII, when major economic development took place in North America and Europe, national coffee roasters started offering "convenient" and "scientifically" packaged coffee and convinced us that "modern" coffee was just as good and without all the fuss and mess. Well, guess what, traditional commercial coffee tasted (and still does) awful, and we just drank it because we wanted the caffeine and something warm during those cold winter days. The only thing we cared about was the price. No wonder young kids started drinking colas. It also has caffeine, but at least it tastes good and sweet! But there is hope! According to a National Coffee Association study published in early 2007, coffee consumption in the US, exceeded consumption of soft drinks for the first time since the 1950s. Most of the growth in coffee consumption was in the Specialty/Gourmet category, not the commercial coffee one.
Coffee industrialization also brought us another non-starter, "instant coffee". No, it does not keep forever, though is convenient and easy to make. Flavor-wise, however, it does not even come close to the real thing. Through heavy marketing, the large coffee conglomerates got us to believe that instant coffee tasted just like real coffee. But we know better; it is not true. Our favorite quote for instant coffee is: "The only similarity between instant coffee and real coffee is that both share the word coffee".
Let's go back and use previous generations' skills. With a modern home or commercial coffee roaster, like the ones we sell, there is no mystery to in-house coffee roasting. Depending on the model you select, in just seven to 30 minutes, you will be ready to brew a pot of the freshest coffee that you have ever made. Furthermore, once you have started roasting your own coffee, you will be able to savor the truly finest coffees in the world, freshly roasted in the convenience of your own home or shop!
So, go ahead, recover one of the timeless, lost pleasures and start roasting your own coffee today.
Just how hard is it to roast coffee? It is very easy to roast your own coffee. If you can make your own popcorn or toast your own bread, you can roast your own coffee. You can roast coffee on a cast-iron skillet (smoky, messy but adventurous), a gas oven (watch out for fires) or in a modern home/commercial coffee roaster electrical appliance, which makes the process safe, easy, clean, quick and fun. Yes, roasting your own coffee is noticeably better than buying already-roasted coffee. Moreover, you will also save lots of money. Green (unroasted) coffee sells for about one third of the same bean roasted.
Roasting coffee in cast iron pans over a camp fire (or a gas stove) has been the original way of coffee roasting for the Ethiopians (where coffee originated, and still grows wild), who still roast in this manner to this day. However, there are couple of things to remember: 1) Get the cast iron pan warm first and constantly move the coffee around (rolling it, so all sides get roasted uniformly). This skill is learned with practice and each roaster develops his/her own technique. It will generate a lot of smoke, especially if you want a dark roast, so do it outside or under a powerful kitchen fan. 2) When the coffee is done you have to quickly cool it down. Cooling the beans quickly is one of the most important steps in home/shop roasting, since coffee continues to roast from its own internal heat long after you have removed it from the external heat source. Coffee that is allowed to cool down to room temperature on its own accord will taste dramatically inferior to coffee that is quickly and decisively cooled. Just dump the hot beans into a colander, and simply stirring and tossing the coffee beans will do the trick. It is better if you have a fan or a shop vac for hot air suction, but then you have to build a fancy coffee-cooling contraption. As long as you cool the beans within three minutes, you are ok.
The preferred method for late 20th-century home coffee roasters was to use a modified hot air corn popper. This method is still widely used. It is folkloric and full of gravitas for its practitioners, who swear by their method. It is a bit messy (all that chaff flying around), but effective and cheap. You can probably find a used, modified hot air corn popper for under $10.
The preferred 21st-century method is to use a dedicated coffee roaster kitchen appliance. Unlike the pioneers who had to "jerry-rig" their own contraptions, the new appliances come in all types of forms, capacities and prices!
So what types of home/shop coffee roasters can I safely and effectively use? Home (and commercial) coffee roasters come in two basic types: a) fluid bed-roasters and b) drum roasters. The Gene Cafe is a hybrid that blends both technologies. The programmable Hottop gives you a sophistication not even found in commercial sample coffee roasters. Fluid bed roasters use the same principle as hot air corn poppers and essentially roast the coffee by 'swirling it around" in a current of hot air. The hot air is the "fluid bed". Examples are the FreshRoast8, the I-Roast2, and the Sonofresco, which is a table-top commercial coffee roaster. Drum coffee roasters use a rotating metal drum that is heated externally. The drum comes with fins that agitate the coffee to ensure an even, uniform roast. Examples of the home drum roasters are the Behmor 1600 and the Hottop. Hybrid roasters combine characteristics of both types. Examples are the Nesco Pro (formerly known as the Zach and Dani's) and the Gene Cafe. Both the Hottop and the Gene Cafe could be used in some commercial applications like restaurants, B&Bs and small coffee shops. For a true commercial application (continuous use) we strongly recommend the Sonofresco, which is a gas-fired fluid bed coffee roaster and we use in all our commercial applications.
We sell and service all of the coffee roasters mentioned above, and heartily recommend any of them depending on your intended use and budget. Please browse our secure online store, the item description of each roaster has its pros (and cons) to help you make an informed decision. Regardless of which roaster you finally select, we are sure of one thing. Once you roast your own coffee, you will never go back.
The best source of knowledge for home coffee roasting is still Kenneth Davids' classic book, "Home Coffee Roasting", available on eBay and Amazon, here.